Bad-mouthing London is election suicide for these confused Tories
he brave people of Westminster have taken their revenge on the Conservative Party. After five-plus years in which the Conservative Party has used ‘Westminster’ as shorthand to describe the metropolitan elite who seemingly rig the system in their favor against neglected provinces, Westminster has taken the opportunity to make its point. on the polls. It is not at all surprising that the Tories were forced out and Labor took control of Westminster council.
It’s hard to believe that, six years to the day, Boris Johnson was stepping down from his second consecutive term as Mayor of London. The conservative party was competitive and interested in power in the capital. Now he has practically given up. In local elections on May 5, Labor won 21 councils against the five held by the Tories. With the exception of Kensington and Chelsea, the Tories have been kicked out of central London. Harrow and Hillingdon to the northwest and Bromley and Bexley to the southeast are the first time a traveler through the capital would encounter Conservative territory.
The most surprising borough was Barnet, where Sir Keir Starmer, the Labor leader and Sadiq Khan, the Labor mayor, had chosen to open the party’s campaign in London on April 8. Barnet had never been a Labor borough in its entire history. It’s now and it’s no wonder.
Barnet is exactly the kind of place – nationally relatively wealthy, relatively well-educated and relatively diverse – that the Conservatives are essentially leaving alone. This is one place where Mr Johnson’s Brexit election calling card really doesn’t work. The same goes for Wandsworth, once the epitome of low-tax fiscal conservatism and now a Labor borough.
In the most recent opinion polls, Labor consistently scores around 50%, often twice as much as the Conservatives. It is the direct result of an electoral strategy in which conservative populists have made the capital the villain in a process in which England’s forgotten towns are declining, leaving their people to fend for themselves. The strategic stupidity of this strategy does not only lie in the fact that London and the South East are the only region of the country which generates a budget surplus and therefore transfers resources to the rest of the country.
More important than that is the fact that as the rest of Britain gets richer, it will look more like London, rather than less like London. The components of success in a modern economy are high levels of education, which come with greater social liberalism and greater diversity. As Manchester has grown from a struggling provincial town to a thriving regional capital, it has become more diverse and liberal. It’s still good Manchester but its social profile is increasingly similar to that of London. This is exactly what would happen if the government ever succeeded in leveling the rest of the country. The process of spreading wealth in the country would create the social conditions in which the conservative party in its present state would be unable to thrive.
Johnson’s plan to get Brexit done and pretend London was a plot against the rest of the nation was a one-election plan. The people of Westminster have just shown it to him. If the Conservative Party is to have any chance of salvaging the next general election, it will have to change course, because an appeal to a declining section of the electorate simply cannot work.
There are two important issues. The first is the immediate set of circumstances, which are very inhospitable to the government. Inflation is already in double digits and the cost of living is going to be very difficult for many people. It is almost inconceivable that the discontent caused by the decline in the standard of living will be accompanied by political sanction for the Conservative government.
The second problem is that the Conservatives do not know how to react. The Prime Minister has a vaguely defined desire to spend money and make things better, one way or another. The chancellor, who has most Tory backbenchers on his side, prefers to save money for tax cuts. The two seem to speak to different groups of people and that’s because they are. The Chancellor wants to win back the lost residents of Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet. Meanwhile, the former London mayor, who has moved across the river to Downing Street, still thinks he can win without them. He can’t and the only question is whether he realizes it in time.